Berlin – the walled city

The bus journey to Hanover airport took less than an hour, and after a two hour wait they were boarding the military flight to Berlin. The flight time was just an hour, and as the seatbelt signs were lit Richard prepared himself for the landing. Looking out of the window, the aircraft had already started to descend through the clouds. It was grey and murky, and it made Richard feel a little depressed. As the plane touched down on the runway at RAF Gatow, they all realised that they were now behind the Iron curtain. West Berlin was just an enclave of Western democracy, surrounded by the Soviet Third Shock Army. The very name of this formation made Richard’s skin tingle. Disembarking the Squadron made its way to the arrivals lounge to await their luggage. In less than twenty minutes the cases and bags had been unloaded and collected. The Troops made their way outside, where again two buses were waiting for them with their engines running. They stowed their luggage in the compartments at the bottom of the buses, and boarded for the thirty minutes journey to ‘Smuts Barracks’.

Smuts barracks was situated on the Wilhelmstrasse, in the district of Spandau. The barracks were built between 1883 and 1886, then housing a train unit. Spandau prison which originally house seven war criminals from the Nuremburg trials. Now it only had one inmate, Rudolph Hess who had the whole prison to himself. The three allied powers of Britain, United States and France and the Soviets took it in turns to guard him. It was rumoured that when the Soviets turn came around they removed any luxuries that the previous guards had given Hess. Each nation in charge would bring its own cook and, in the American, French, and British months, they would feed the prisoner better than regulations allowed. The Soviets would offer an unchanging diet of coffee, bread, soup, and potatoes. Luckily Richard was to find out that it was just the Infantry Battalions who had responsibility of providing the guards. As the bus entered the gates the sentry lifted the barrier to let them in. They were obviously expected. An advance party from the Sqn consisting of Officers, SNCOs and JNCOs had already arrived a couple of days earlier. They had already taken over the vehicles and equipment from the outgoing Regiment the Royal Hussars. This included taking over the ammunition that each tank carried as they were always ‘fully bombed up’. Richard’s dad had been assigned as the SQMS, and had taken over the single accommodation, which was known as the Berlin Hilton. This was an unusual situation as father and sons were normally kept in separate Sqns. Richard was to find out however that there would be no favouritism shown to him during his time with the Sqn.

The first time he had evidence of this was when they were issued their clothing from the stores. Everyone received brand new coveralls, except Richard who was given four second hand pairs. Whereas they were in very good condition, he still felt a little down hearted. He soon cheered up when they were taken to their accommodation. All the single soldiers in the Troop were each assigned a single room. The rooms came complete with fitted carpet, wardrobes, and their own washbasin. This was worlds apart from the four man rooms, which most of them were used to. Every Troop lived on their own separate floor, which had its own toilet, shower room, complete with washing area. They also had been provided with a kitchen and communal room, with a TV. Another thing that pleased Richard was that Pete had also been assigned to the Sqn, although in a different Troop. His stay would not be for long, as they were to find out in the coming months.

As he entered the accommodation they were ushered towards a lift. Each of the Troops were on a floor according to their Troop. As they were third Troop they would be located on the third floor. Placing their luggage in the lift Ken pressed the button for the third floor, in a matter of seconds the door was opening for them to exit. Walking through the glass doors to their front, they entered into a corridor that was highly polished and looked brand new. There were six rooms on each side of the corridor, and Richard came across his name on a door second from the end. Ken’s room was on the opposite side and at a light angle. On opening the door Richard could not believe how immaculate and clean the room was. He understood how it had been given the name the Berlin Hilton, as it was like walking into a hotel room. Placing his bags on the floor he began to go through the check list that had been left for him. It was every single soldier’s responsibility to check and sign for the bedding, and other items in his room. He was at the same time to inspect the serviceability of the furniture and note any damage. When they ‘marched out’ of the room in two years’ time, any damages caused after that point would have to be charged for. Richard had received this lecture from his dad, so was fastidious in his checking of the room.

All the Troops had been given the rest of the day off to settle in. They were to parade at 08:30 the next day on the tank park. The newly formed Troop decided that all those living in would meet in the bar after the evening meal. This was so they could get to know each other a little before the next day. The married guys were busy taking over their married quarters on an estate called ‘Darby Strasse’. This was about a twenty minute drive from the camp and where Richard’s parents, brother and sister would be living. This meant that they would not get to meet everyone prior to the parade the next day. – See more at:


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